Surrealism is difficult to pull off in horror fiction. Sure, any horror writer worth his or her salt can come up with off-kilter imagery, but to ground it and give it enough heart to resonate with readers is where the true skill comes into play. The reason I’m not a huge fan of surrealistic fiction is that I don’t connect with most of it.
So I was pleasantly surprised to find that in Bone Whispers, a new collection of short fiction from Post Mortem Press, Tim Waggoner manages to meld surreal imagery and events with strong character work and an immersive point of view, resulting in work that shocks you on the surface and unsettles you right down to your bones.
This collection successfully mixes Waggoner’s quirky concepts with several more “traditional” scary stories, and brings the two approaches harmoniously together in “Skull Cathedral,” which stands out in my mind as the most affecting and accomplished story in the book. It’s a hallucinatory trip involving primitive brain surgery, life rafts made of human skin, a sea of blood, and so much more. It’s pure, twisted imagination, capped off with a killer payoff that I wouldn’t dream of ruining.
Other standouts include “Unwoven,” in which a woman’s fear of spiders has terrible consequences for her (and everyone else in the world); “Best Friends Forever,” in which a man is haunted by buried memories and a stuffed St. Bernard; “Some Dark Hope,” in which a lonely man seeks the truth behind an urban legend known as the Union Street Whore; and “Long Way Home,” in which a mother’s love is tested when blood starts raining from the sky. That one has a wicked gut punch of an ending that, again, you won’t hear from me.
The length of the stories in Bone Whispers ranges from quick two-pagers to longer pieces, but they’re all fast reads. That’s a good thing, because this is not the type of anthology you can easily put down. If your plan is to savor it one-story-a-day style, good luck – I found myself compulsively gobbling these tales up two and three at a time.
Waggoner really challenged my notions of what makes good horror fiction with Bone Whispers, and I’m always grateful when an author does that to me. This collection is a refreshing, eye-opening addition to my shelves, and it’s a book I look forward to revisiting in the future.